The legendary Wong Long, creator of the famous northern Shaolin seven star praying mantis system of kung fu, developed his system while spending his days at the Shaolin Temple.
Taking the best techniques from 17 other styles of the time, Wong created one of the most effective fighting systems ever developed in China. Some of these techniques include the long fist of tai cho, short fist of Un Yian, monkey style of Sun Tan and the throwing strokes of Wai Tek. Combined with the movements used by the praying mantis insect, these techniques gave birth to the seven-star mantis system.
The northern mantis system remained in the Shaolin Temple for several generations until a wandering Taoist monk named abbot Sheng Hsiao Tao Jen came to visit the sacred grounds. After mastering the mantis style, Tai Jen left the temple and became the first person to disseminate this style throughout China.
“Li the Lighting Fist”
Tao Jen handed over the system to Li San Chen, who established a security service called the “Pui Kuk.” Li was revered in Northern China and was known to thieves as “Li the Lightening Fist.” His skills were so great he was never defeated. When Li was much older, while searching for a worthy student, he met Wang Yung Sheng, a national boxing champion. Before he taught Yung Sheng, Li challenged the young champion to a friendly match. Yung Sheng couldn’t even touch the much older master; Li simply seemed to vanish every time Yung attacked. Once Li touched Yung Sheng, Li was immovable. Yung Sheng eventually became the third successor of the mantis system.
Wang passed his teaching on to Fan Yuk Tang, who weighed over 300 pounds and was known for his iron palm skills. He achieved widespread fame in China by accepting an open challenge from a Russian fighter in the early 1870’s. Traveling to Siberia, Fan defeated the Russian champion along with several other challengers. Fan’s disciple, Lo Kwan Yuk, earned the title of fifth successor of the system.
In 1919, after leaning of Lo’s reputation as a fighter, the committee of the Shanghai Chin Wu Athletic Association, hoping to fill the position of chief instructor, sent a representative to Shantung to invite Lo to Shanghai. Lo accepted the position and trained many successful students. His fighting techniques proved themselves again when one of his top students, Ma Ching Hsin, took first place at a national Chinese boxing competition.
The next successor, Chao Chi Man, was already an accomplished martial artist when he met Lo. The late grandmaster Chao Chi Man joined the Hong Kong Chin Wu Association in 1924, where he studied the shaolin tan tui style for six years. He also trained in eagle claw and tai chi chuan. When Lo was honored as one of the “Four Super-Lords” of the Chin Wu Association, Chao Chi Man began to follow him. In 1930, Chao Chi Man committed his studies to seven star mantis kung fu.
Opening the “Closed Door”
Chao Chi Man disseminated the seven star system to his nephew, Chiu Leun, who already had a background in mantis style through his apprenticeship at a temple with the “Big Monk” and the “Little Monk.” Chiu Leun spread the art to America when he relocated to New York’s Chinatown. It was here that sifu Raymond Fogg began his studies under the grandmaster. Fogg, one of the few “closed-door” disciples, dispersed the art first in Washington, D.C., and later in Texas.
As taught by grandmaster Chiu Leun and master Fogg, the seven star system is a complete fighting style with many empty hand, weapons, and two-person sets. Iron palm and iron arm training constitute just part of the advanced training instruction, along with the lo han qigong set.
The art of chi sau or “sticky hands” is widely known in wing chun and in the push hands on tai chi chuan. Mantis chi sau is similar, but has specific guiding techniques and principles. Chi sau allows a practitioner to elevate his techniques through the skill if touch, which allows one to “measure” and “listen” to his partner or adversaries intentions.
When learning chi sau, you must learn to follow the other’s movement without leading. The is done with great patience and complete trust in your sifu’s guidance. Much time should be taken to slow one’s movements, calm the spirit, and fully “hear” one’s opponent. This calmness eventually can be carried into a full-speed, full-power combat. Other important principles to remember in chi sau include staying relaxed yet “full” and constantly moving with no wasted movements. Use weight to follow up strikes and always keep one’s body sensitive. The slightest touch can lead to the hand slipping away.
The Key to Mantis
Achieving high-level mantis chi sau skills can only be accomplished by placing emphasis on the training of the system’s drills and techniques, and working long hours on forms, which include chin na joint locking, throws, and ground fighting. Chi sau helps a practitioner successfully apply the technique’s, which ultimately hold the key to the knowledge handed down from master to student. Tong Long practitioners are famous for blocking a punch and then following the arm into a “hook,” where they can pluck or redirect their opponent before striking. When using chin na joint locks, mantis stylists break and/or quickly move on to a strike or throw. Using chi sau skill, one can find his competitor’s center and throw him off balance. Chi sau, along with rolls, can be used to escape chin na. To make all strikes count, aim at sensitive areas and pressure points.
It is important to remember the “rules governing wushu:” when you get hurt, don’t let your opponent know; use deception to vary your techniques. Kung fu is based on circles, so try to make your strikes go in circles or in an arc. When in combat, use your spirit and facial expressions. Mantis hops and other mantis footwork, such as chien (dodging) and sim bo, are used in a controlling manner to gain momentum. Ja bo, which is similar to bagua’s walking circle, teng (jumping) and chi jert “sticky feet” are important parts of mantis footwork.
In combat, “body handling” or controlling the opponent’s elbow must not only be learned, but also mastered. When grabbed, yield and twist, using circular motions in the direction of the force. Then follow then attack. Collapsing techniques can be both offensive and defensive in nature.
Effective in Combat
Chi sau heightens a martial artist’s sense of awareness and increases contact reflexes. One purpose is to sense for centerline mistakes. Along with the fighting drills, these principles allow a practitioner to incorporate a series of techniques into his mantis repertoire. Other chi sau drills include choi som sau, noi gwa sau, and jim lim sau. These drills, combined with strict adherence to the 12 principles of attack and defense and eight hard and 12 soft principles, allow a student to understand why the mantis system is so effective in combat.
Fogg was introduced to chi sau in Washington, D.C., where he studied the mantis system under sihing Randy Burly. He later trained mantis fighting under Chiu Leung and in mantis boxing under sifu Henry Chung. He said chi sai training helped him develop sensitivity.
“In kung-fu, one must learn to listen with their arms, hands, and body,” Fogg explained. “In a fight, most of the damage will be done in close quarters. That is, the range of touching, which allows one to use all of the sensitivity developed in the chi sau or jeem leem.”
Scratching the surface of seven star praying mantis is easy, Fogg added, What separates the beginner from the advanced student is his understanding and mastery of the eight hard principles and 12 soft principles.
“Well, it becomes obvious that the 12 are more important to obtain. Furthermore, becoming one with the 12 soft principles is a much harder task to accomplish than becoming one with the hard principles,” Fogg noted. “Many practitioners lack the patience required to understand the importance of the soft and without understanding it becomes even harder to achieve.”
Still, a mastery of chi sau techniques adds to the mantis practitioner’s arsenal of weapons, Fogg insisted.
“Learning and achieving aspects of chi sau (jeem leem), I became more confident in my skills and found that my growth could be infinite.”